Anticipate before you automate
Using innovative approaches to make your business more efficient generates energy and excitement and right now automation is the business innovation trend which is getting people excited. Automation can save time, reduce the resources needed in a process, remove human error, and reduce expenses.
Applying automation isn’t a silver bullet for inefficiency. It is a set of tools. Software, robots, machine-learning, and analytics are tools which when applied effectively handle repetitive, replicable, and routine tasks, to contribute to increasing productivity.
So, what do you need to do before automating your processes?
1. Consider the suitability of automation
Automation can be a drastic change for organisations and for customers. Your focus might be on the strategic advantages and operational benefits, but there are other considerations:
Customers need to be satisfied with their relationship and interactions with the business
Will workers capabilities be used effectively in conjunction with automated systems?
What level of reliability and ease of use is needed for an automated system to be suitable for customer use?
How will you maintain a continuous improvement approach with automated processes?
Decisions will need to be made about what is best handled by humans and if, when, and how, people will take over the work of an automated system.
The suitability of a process for automation also needs to include consideration of the human experience. Think about the psychological, aesthetic, physical, and other impacts on the people involved in the process to ensure that automation is a suitable approach.
TIP: Sometimes an automated process improvement is suitable because improvement can’t be achieved without it.
2. Improve as you automate
How you approach setting your automation goals will make a difference.
Automating a process can improve a process, but to be most effective improve the process and use automation as the means of achieving the improvement.
Automating an existing process can remove human error in the process, speed the process up, and increase productivity. It will also automate any inefficiencies in the process. Improving the process as well as applying automation will deliver a twofold improvement, reaping the efficiencies of a better process as well as the efficiency gains automation will deliver.
New technologies that promise double-digit or even triple-digit same-year returns should rightfully be viewed
with skepticism. But our experience shows that the promise of intelligent process automation is real if executives
carefully consider and understand the drivers of opportunity and incorporate them effectively with the other
approaches and capabilities that drive the next-generation operating model.
3. Review your business rules
Business rules can simply be accepted as the way we do things and overlooked as a factor in improving productivity.
Examine your business rules for any repetitive routine work, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking of that as only manual work. Use of any knowledge or skill repetitively in a routine could have potential for automation.
Look for parts of your processes requiring a management decision or an expert’s participation. There may be opportunities here to codify a decision-making process in an automated system. Is the manager making their decision based on some rules of thumb which could be captured and automated? Does the expert use rules or standards which could be codified and applied by a system, reducing or eliminating the review or inspection work they need to do within a process?
The finance and insurance sector has shown how well-developed business rules backed by expert knowledge can be used to automate data driven decision-making. Insurance and financial services transactions routinely involve systems which automate financial analysis, risk assessment, and credit checking. From a process of quoting and purchasing insurance online, to a telephone or face-to-face interaction with a customer service officer using an expert decision-making system, knowledge and skills have been captured in automated processes.
4. Assess the effect of automation on customer value
Double check that automating your processes will deliver what your customer values.
Now think about the type of relationship you have with your customers and the complexity of the problem you solve for them. Will automation reduce customer value in any way?
E-commerce saw a major shift in customer service. With many businesses designing customer facing processes limiting and controlling customer’s ability to communicate with them. Service channels became telephone systems with endless menus, robots which can’t understand you, online self-help, or email as the only channel of contact.
Ease of access online added to customer value when everything ran smoothly. However, the consequence of businesses distancing themselves from the customer is an erosion of customer value. If a problem occurs and it is difficult to get it attended to, the value of
ease of online access is eroded too.
So, check that the cost and waste reductions achieved by automation do not have consequences for your customers.
5. Resourcing and risks
Trying to automate everything at once is risky. Increasing the potential for disruption and making it more difficult to isolate and fix issues. Taking a task view has risks too. Focusing on automating one task can overlook the consequences of the change for other parts of the end-to-end operation.
Regardless of your approach, forethought and preparation are necessary to effectively manage the complex mix of existing systems, unfamiliar technology, people issues, and high expectations.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
There are many things to do and think about to manage the risks inherent in such a change. As businesses have made more and more use of IT, the challenge has been to reduce project failure rates. This experience is one to learn from and apply to automating your processes with preparation such as:
Investigating how other businesses have used automation to improve their performance
Getting the right knowledge and skill sets onboard to plan and execute the automation of your processes
Identifying potential vendors and defining the type of working relationship you want with them, including the ongoing support you would expect.
Digitised automation is gradually changing how physical processes are performed. By combining the mechanical and the digital and altering the control of machines, the role of workers is shifted from from operator to overseer, interventionist, or specialist participant in the process.
Approaching the automation of business processes to create effective interaction between human, mechanical, and digital elements definitely takes more than selecting some software.
Intelligent process automation: The engine at the core of the next-generation operating model. By Federico Berruti, Graeme Nixon, Giambattista Taglioni, and Rob Whiteman March 2017 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/intelligent-process-automation-the-engine-at-the-core-of-the-next-generation-operating-model
Before Automating Your Company’s Processes, Find Ways to Improve Them. Thomas H. Davenport David Brain JUNE 13, 2018 https://hbr.org/2018/06/before-automating-your-companys-processes-find-ways-to-improve-them